Nanaimo author Kim Goldberg, VIU English professor Sonnet L’Abbé and 21 other writers from across Canada have had their work compiled in an anthology of poems and essays critical of the Canadian Literature establishment.
Goldberg said a series of recent events in the CanLit world, including famous writers coming to the defence of fired UBC professor Steven Galloway, author Joseph Boyden having his indigenous background challenged and writer Hal Niedzviecki’s call for an “appropriation prize,” were all galvanizing forces that resulted in the publication of Refuse: CanLit in Ruins.
“We have a situation where this literature has long been dominated by basically a white male establishment and many other marginalized writers are sort of rising up together in a synchronous way to say, ‘This isn’t acceptable. Either the institution has to expand or disappear so that all the voices can be heard,’” Goldberg said.
“What we understand as Canadian literature has a legacy of having been created and controlled by a select group of people,” L’Abbé said. “And this collection, this anthology challenges the way that literary scenes in general have reproduced old hierarchies.”
L’Abbé has three poems in the anthology that come from her own upcoming book of poetry. As someone who commonly writes about issues around appropriation, racialized experiences and experiences of sexual violence in relation to the Canadian national identity, she said her work fits Refuse’s mandate.
“One poem is about mansplaining and a response to a mansplainer. Another one is in the voice of a defensive white person who doesn’t want to call out racism and then the last one is about rapists who want to say ‘sorry’ and have everybody just be like ‘OK, you’re sorry.’”
Goldberg said her poem was directly inspired by the Galloway controversy. She said she was hearing the same things repeated on social media and this was her attempt to say something “that I hadn’t read 100 times before on Twitter in the last week.” Her piece is called Small Birds.
“I suppose the small birds in question are the generally unheard and ignored voices, whether it’s complainants about sexual harassment on campus or anything else,” she said.
Goldberg and L’Abbé will be reading their submissions and talking about the book along with Vancouver writer Jane Eaton Hamilton, another contributor, at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library on March 3.
Goldberg said she hopes to see attendees engage in discussion at the book launch, which she said is the “whole point” of Refuse. She said everybody is a reader and everybody is affected by literature.
“I hope that it contributes to conversations about power and representation more broadly,” L’Abbé said of the book.
“And that it helps people think about who gets to tell the stories that are amplified most loudly, who gets to tell the stories that shape our culture and who gets to define what ‘our culture’ even is.”
WHAT’S ON … Refuse: CanLit in Ruins book launch, featuring Kim Goldberg, Sonnet L’Abbé and Jane Eaton Hamilton, takes place at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library on Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m.